lunching Italian-style at Southbank…

Italian would have to be in my top 3 cuisines… not so good for clean and lean though so this lunch was going to be a slight challenge…. NO PASTA FRANK!!

Convenience was the reason we chose Tutto Bene at Southbank for this catch up with an old client, now friend. But, this location was going to tick off a box that probably should have been ticked off years ago. “You haven’t had a risotto at Tutto Bene?!? And you call yourself a Melbournian?!”

It was freezing, therefore it could have been any day for the last 6 months right…? Anyway, enough weather whingeing.. See, I told you I was a Melbournian… We were sat outside in a kind of sheltered area to watch the action (mostly just peeps running from one shelter from the rain to the next, as they navigated their way down the banks of the Yarra). It was warmer than it sounds on the balcony but I have no doubt on a sunny day that balcony would be a coveted spot. I perused the menu ignoring the sections I most wanted…. pasta and risotto and looking to the protein section. I’ll be having the duck special thanks..

Tuuto Bene duck special

And it was sensational. “It doesn’t look like duck” I hear you say. And you are right, it was taken off the bone and pressed into this delicious little square. YUM!

Of course there was a risotto in the group and it also looked pretty speccy…

7 weeks ’til the wedding and then I have added it to my list once everything is signed, sealed, delivered… if you know what I mean…

A lovely lunch was had by all, with definite intentions to return and maybe watch a little more exciting action down on the banks of the Yarra.

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Euro-trash at Caffe e Cucina

Saturday just gone proved to be the busiest day in my social calendar this year… probably last year too. I am still exhausted and once again there wasn’t even a drop of alcohol consumed.

It started with pilates… probably not really intensive enough for the day of eating ahead….

Next off the cards; a hens day of a very special friend at Caffe e Cucina. An absolute Melbourne classic. The high standards impeccably kept since 1988!! Famous for the delicious food, the signature dish of seafood linguine cooked in a bag, or to be correct Linguine Di Mare Al Cartoccio… also the calamari is pretty damn good and pretty damn famous… But mostly famous for the charming, and ridiculously flirtatious waiters: “Ciao Bella” anyone? Our lunch was upstairs, we had the whole space and the girls didn’t need to add much to the authentic ambience. There was a piece of biscotti at each place-setting and when the bride-to-be arrived in a SUPER GLAM gold sequined dress, huge white belt and matching huge white sunnies, the Eurotrash theme (to commemorate the place of engagement in beautiful Positano) became apparent.

We had a 3 course set menu that included Prosecco on arrival and a choice of four italian wines (two red and two white) poured for the remainder of the lunch… I abstained…. LONGEST FEBRUARY EVER! I love a set menu with choice and this one had plenty. A choice of three entrees and four mains. The mains were accompanied by mixed salad and italian potato chips AKA shoestring fries. For dessert we shared a chefs selection, which for our particular lunch included tiramisu, pannacotta, chocolate mousse & lemon filled profiterols. Here are a couple of photographic highlights:

Calamari Sant’Andrea

Carpaccio di Manzo

Linguine Di Mare Al Cartoccio

I left the lunch very, very full! The girls all headed to the Royal Saxon for no doubt a bunch more drinks and I headed to a garden party celebrating a long-time coming engagement… I thought the couple had been going out for ten years but we were corrected in the speeches (by the groom) that it was actually only nine.. riiiggghhht… It was a pleasant?! 38 degrees on this fine Melbourne day… I started to complain about the heat, as I drank my 18th water for the day in the shade, until I had a look around at my friends, and their very pregnant bellies… and shut my mouth! At least I was in good non-drinking company! After a couple of hours of chatting in the shade, watching the children jumping in and out of the pool (and no doubt all wishing we were “the children” again) and I was off to my final event for the day… a farewell family dinner for my aunt who is sadly (for us and her) heading back to the UK winter…. Dinner story will be told in the next post because I am EXHAUSTED!

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Mama Baba for a special Valentine’s dinner


It was an accident we ended up having a date for five on Valentines Day at Mama Baba but a very happy accident! A food-loving friend suggested the restaurant after some rave peer reviews. The latest for the Press Club Group, a restaurant influenced by George Colombaris’ heritage. We thought about who else might to join us and another couple popped into my head… Mainly because the husband in this particular team is not really into trying new restaurants. His idea of a romantic night out would be Kooyong Tennis Club Dining Room to use up his annual food and beverage credit… Not a bad dinner location really but not really that exciting for his wonderful wife who cooks him all manner of delicious dinners…. regularly! Therefore, I called the wife regarding dinner and we locked in Valentine’s Day to at least save the boys some thinking effort (and probably their asses as it’s fairly unlikely they would have booked anything otherwise).

We were booked for a two-hour sitting between 7pm and 9pm on a shared table. The only option available for our group of five. I don’t mind sharing tables… as long as I’m not on the end sitting next to strangers right…? It was actually fine as the guys that did end up sitting next to us didn’t arrive until 8:30 so we had mostly finished, plus our group had consumed a couple of bottles of wine (excluding me as February seems to be lasting FOREVER) and were less concerned about close contact with other humans. While it was super busy, it didn’t feel too crowded. The old nightclub space was maximised with bare, high ceilings, a tricky mirror or two and great lighting, particularly around the bar areas, making all the pretty spirit bottles into decorations in their own right. It was Valentine’s Night so the crowd was mostly couples, our little group and one big ‘girl power’ group. We suggested that the waiter might get lucky later…

Food now. The pasta menu is split into Greek influence of his mother and the Italian influence of his father. We all wanted to try everything so we decided to share starters and mains… 2 pastas from each influence…

ricotta with byzantine vinaigrette

chicken parma burgers

Bucanti carbonara with calamari, crispy maple pork, pumpkin parmesan, saffron brodo

Agnolotti with chicken, thyme, melted butter and anchovy pangrattato

Tortellini of prawns, saganaki, tomato and feta

Ravioles filled with lamb, celery and topped in sauce avgolemono

Rave reviews around the table (and in many conversations since)! Favourites were split which is always good. My favourites, though both extremely rich, were undoubtably the Bucanti; Wow! carbonara AND pork AND calamari… AMAZING!… and the Agnolotti; this wasn’t one of my choices initially but I am sooooo glad we ordered it!!

“Can I interest you in some dessert?”

Der……!

A couple of cones for the crew - crunchy peanut butter and salt

OMG... what an Italian Mess...! Delectable!

I had no idea what an Italian Mess consisted of but was pretty confident if it was anything like an Eton Mess I would be okay. Core ingredients intact – cream and meringue! Okay is an understatement! I can’t exactly tell you what else is in it, except some very alcoholic jelly chunks and super thin fruit slices, nectarine I think but it was an phenomenal finish to a fabulous night. And nice and non-romantical for the boys!

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2011 part 6 – a Manly trip down memory lane

The second day of our engagement celebration weekend in Sydney started with a ferry ride to Manly. A place very special to me. Nearly every summer Sunday morning started for me at either Queenscliff or Freshie beach. An incredible place to grow up!

We hopped off the ferry and strolled along The Corso to the ocean side, to our hotel on the beach, The Manly Pacific. Beautiful! After a long walk along the beach and a couple of ciders on the balcony we headed back harbour side for dinner reservations at Manly Pavilion, 2011 winner of best new restaurant in Sydney Good Food Guide Awards. We walked through the beautiful, restored deco bar and restaurant space to the balcony, to our table with this fabulous view

view from the dinner table

I ordered some bubbles and while Ben would normally join me in bubbles or a beer, on this occasion he was feeling a little tropical and ordered a mojito… but not just any mojito….

Pre dinner passion fruit and vanilla mojito

How masculine! We perused the delicious Italian menu for ages and once again Ben denied me degustation but we settled on a selection of small dishes to share.

Manly Pavilion Menu

kingfish with white balsamic, capers and herbs

crispy pig tails salad with button mushrooms and toast croutons

I think we got a little hungry as I don’t seem to have many pics of this meal… There is no way we only had 2 entrees. Ha! And obviously we had to have a couple of sorbets for dessert

Passionfruit and sweet tomato sorbet with black sesame meringue

Peanut butter foam, banana sorbet, honeycomb, lime and ginger

Another brilliant reason to visit Manly! This is a sensational lunch destination if you are staying near Manly, in the CBD or somewhere else on the ferry network. A long, leisurely lunch and then a gentle ferry ride back.

Manly Pavilion Dining Room & Bar on Urbanspoon

Rockpool & Ecco – Another double-double

So… in the week I decide to start a food diary (and not the fun kind like this), I have bookclub (uh oh cheese platter and cupcakes) and a double dining-out Friday with a work lunch and a friend’s birthday dinner. Probably not the best start to “seeing what I eat” or, on the otherhand, maybe a required dose of reality…

Lat’s talk about Friday then… Lunch was originally planned for Golden Fields, the setting of one of my best meals of 2011, I was stoked but it was then moved to South Bank, for convenience of attendees. I was also stoked with the new destination of Rockpool as I had never been in all my time in Melbourne. I am not sure why, I have been to plenty of work lunches in Crown Casino but maybe this restaurant slightly pushes the price barriers… Except for very special peeps obviously, which I mustn’t have been in my past job. Ha!

The restaurant is very grand and we sat, a table of eight, around a square table in super comfy chairs. I have always been a fan of square dining tables and the open conversations they encourage. Our napkins were placed in our laps and at first, I thought we had an alternating colour scheme going with black & white, until we realised that the service is so attentive, that you get a black napkin if you are wearing dark clothing to avoid whatever miniscule white flecks could be left behind. WOW!

The menu choice was huge. I struggled as I always do with big menus and the thought “what if we don’t come back” but also with the fact I was heading out for dinner that night… Where? I didn’t know, so trying to balance the day’s eating was a trying task. I settled on a fish crudo (basically sashimi) with horseradish, corainder, finger limes and drizzled with lemon flavoured oil. Lovely and light. And for main I had the fillet steak with Bernaise sauce, cooked rare (I had my fingers crossed for pasta on the menu later in the evening). How could I not have a steak at Rockpool really?! Around the table I saw, some other fabulous meals. Work lunch ettiquette is such, that you can’t actually just taste everyone’s food, much to my disappointment. I did however have a good friend in attendance and happily sitting right next to me. Woot! Therefore I can comment on a few other dishes and the confit duck with apple balsamic and mango (you will see it doesn’t look that pretty) was super delish. I had been told that the sides as Rockpool are almost as famous as the steaks and we were not disspointed. The roasted sweet potato and pumpkin with burnt butter was incredible, and therefore sat right near my plate for most of lunch. The baby kipflers cooked in waygu fat?…. drooling now as I write! 

Crudo of Ocean Trout, Yellow Fin Tuna & Coorong Yellow Eyed Mullet

Duck Confit with Grilled Mango & Apple Balsamic

Dessert time and I declined… sort of… Only on the proviso I could have a little nibble of my friendly neighbour’s…. dessert that is. A devil’s food cupcake. CUTE! We also ordered some cheese and coffees for the table… but I am pretty sure there was more ‘want’ for another bottle of fabulous NZ pinot noir… And we may have followed lunch with a little drinkie at The Waiting Room, a new bar, also in the Neil Perry portfolio, also in Crown. It is still February though, and I am still not drinking, so I just had ANOTHER mineral water…

Devil's Food Cupcake with mascarpone icing

Three cheese platter - goats, brie & blue

Pimms & dry at The Waiting Room AND Stacey's hand!

Rockpool Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon

A quick stop back at the office to pick up my car (a definite benefit of FebFast) and I was on my way to pick up Ben and go to our next destination, which I still didn’t know and was still hoping would involve pasta. Turns out we were meant to be going to George Clombaris’ new greek/italian restaurant Mama Baba but it was booked out (I was relieved given I am booked in for a VERY romantic dinner there on Valentine’s Tuesday). We ended up at Ecco da nicolini on Toorak Rd in South Yarra. A group of six of us, and this place is a favourite of four. A good sign. And it was PACKED. For good reason. What a lovely little dinner we had. And again, I wasn’t the only non-drinker. This time we had another pregnant friend, with two weeks till pop-date, and the sober (grumpy), father-to-be, who is not enjoying the heavy beer ban in the case of sudden hospital run required. Here are some pics of the ensuing meal, minus dessert because I forgot again until it was too late! But I can tell you the sticky fig pudding and panna cotta were fab!

Antipasto platter

Capricciosa pizza

Housemade gnocchi baked in a creamy napoli sauce with bocconcini

Moral of the story, do not start a food diary (the boring kind)…… EVER!

 
Ecco on Urbanspoon

The Second Ladro – South of the River

This is a tale from 2011… A dinner at Ladro Greville St… probably first half 2011 but I was back very recently for another hit with the bookclub ladies.. On that most recent visit I was very lucky. Most of the bookclub ladies seem to be pregnant and we had the set menu which included a prosciutto, salami & pancetta plate…. enough for 16 ladies…. See what I mean? Lucky! WAHOOO!

Anyway back to the visit that we have pictures for because it is a meal that sticks in my memory as one of my best italian meals ever. I’m going to say there were three of us at dinner. Normally with this gang there would be four but I can’t find enough meals to feed four so am guessing one of the girls couldn’t make it this particular evening. We ordered a pepperoni pizza, the pasta special and the main special to share as we are a happy, adventurous group that like to taste everything. I have actually been to Ladro’s a few times between this visit and the bookclub visit. I have had my fingers crossed that this pasta special would return… my favourite pasta dish alongside the seafood agnolotti with cherry tomatoes at Carlisle Wine Bar… but alas I have never seen it again.

simple & delicious pepperoni pizza

flat gnocchi with pancetta, bocconcini & incredible salsa

Fabulous roast pork loin, with cornichons and I think polenta

Obviously we got dessert since we had skipped on the entree (to be healthy) and shared a delicious tiramisu and chocolate ravioli… sweet pasta is aahhhmmmmaazzzing! And by the way, when I say shared, I’m pretty sure I mean, the others had a taste and I polished off the lot..

dessert duo: tiramisu & chocolate filled ravioli

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